Sequential Underground #10 – Creative Domain

Sequential Underground

The podcast by indie comics creators for indie comics creators has character.

Public domain character conversation, that is! (Okay, okay, bad pun. Sorry.)

Dan wants to talk about public domain comic book characters. Nick wants to talk about passion for licensed properties vs. passion for original self-created properties. Shawn wants to talk about Alex Ross.

We debate creative ownership vs. collecting a paycheck vs. nostalgic passion. And we end with round table questions about open and closed creative properties.

8 Responses to “Sequential Underground #10 – Creative Domain”

  1. 1 ross

    great episode!!! i loved this one, i wish i could’ve gotten in on it.

    it was definitely a shame Tokyopop screwed Becky out of East Coast Rising 2. she showed me sketches of some cool subhuman creatures that would’ve been in volume 2. Pirates of Coney Island was an Image series that was never finished, by Rick Spears & Vasilis Lolos.

    i can sympathize with a lot of those people who care so much about characters the owning corporation obviously doesn’t give a shit about. i think sometimes i like to think i’m beyond/above that, but every so often i feel a twinge of that when they do something shitty with X-23 or Angel Salvadore in the new X-Men movie. and you better believe i’d be chomping at the bit if they brought Marrow back and did something i didn’t like, heh. i don’t know. i mean obviously i’d get over it and i’d still always love the portions of the characters that i originally liked, but it’s still frustrating.

    i think i’ve said this to you before but it’s also easy for me to dismiss that sort of behavior/passion because Marvel isn’t currently using any of the characters i really care about, heh.

    it’s definitely interesting trying to dissect the behavior, though. i think for a lot of people the original creation vs. licensed thing has to do with a pervasive attitude that some things, whether because a thing has been around for a while, or it’s well-known even a little bit including something with a sole creator like Savage Dragon, are more “real” than a new original creation. or they “matter” more in some way. like i won’t “arrive” as a creator until i’ve either worked on some licensed character like Swamp Thing or Ninja Turtles (which both almost happened! haha) that a lot of people know and i’m being paid big bucks by a company to do, or other than that you have to have your own creation hit the mainstream (like Scott Pilgrim) and be big enough to “matter.”

    i guess it mostly has to do with money. like if you’re making more money on something then it matters more, or if you, as a fan instead, know that there’s a lot of money behind a story or character, then it’s somehow more real. it’s more real reading Batman than it is reading Shadoweyes, or for a lot of artists/writers/cartoonists it’s more real working on Spider-Man than it is on your own shit. Spider-Man “matters.” Spider-Man “counts.”

    i feel some form of this sometimes, as a creator. i love my own characters, of course, i know for a fact that they’re as good as any of these mainstream Big Two characters who have been around for decades. i KNOW that just because Shadoweyes hasn’t been around since 1940, or because of any anything else, that she isn’t as good as Batman. i’ve been lucky as hell i’ve been able to pay the bills with my own stories for almost 6 years, but when i got that Ninja Turtles job offer from Dark Horse last year, it was a totally different feeling. and i know i could hypothetically do my own Ninja Turtles comic on my own time if i wanted, which would be classified as fanfiction i guess, but as soon as i’m getting paid by a licensor to do it and it’s being read by thousands and thousands of people, it’s not fanfiction anymore, it’s “real.” i’d be “getting” to draw Ninja Turtles even though i still know i could draw them any time i wanted, just without money involved, and my version would never be the “real” Ninja Turtles to anyone else. even though it’s such a nebulous, abstract thing, like in theory my Ninja Turtles fancomic COULD become the “real” official Ninja Turtles if Nickelodeon saw it and picked it up and published it. i kind of hate that i felt that way and i can’t really explain it, but i guess for me, in this case, it also has to do with something you’ve loved for a long time and getting to both do that as a job, and getting this nebulous kind of “approval” and having your vision for a licensed character being big and important and endorsed by a company.

    i also don’t think creators or fans have to choose, either, why can’t they partake in both? i could still do my own original work AND a licensed thing, without compromising either of them.

    i don’t know. i keep getting into various trains of thoughts about it, i don’t know if it’s easily explained or if i made any sense here. XD

  2. 2 ross

    holy shit, i wrote a lot.

  3. 3 nick marino

    yeah you wrote a lot… a lot of good stuff!!!

    i think when i spent more time as a fan and a reader, i could understand the desire to work on a licensed property much more than i can now. as i create more, it seems to me like — if given comparable options (and by comparable, i mean getting paid around the same amount) — opting for someone’s corporate property over your own is just plain nutzo!!! especially nowadays when nearly every licensed property is plotted by committee and then turned over to the writers as the plot equivalent of a Mad Lib. i can understand the desire to draw said characters much more than write because of that fact.

    i guess the one big bonus to almost any licensed work is that the profile will be higher and the exposure is greater. in that respect, i can understand it more.

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  5. 4 ross

    i thought of another factor, which is that for me at least, the desire to work on various licensed characters like Sleepwalker or TMNT or Marrow, is a completely idealistic one, in that i’d want to work on them in a utopian scenario where it’s a story i really like, even one i have complete control over, and still get paid for it. but if Marvel was like “you can work on Sleepwalker, but Shittystory McWorstwriter is the writer and his story is [worst Sleepwalker ideas ever].” i think that would be the worst, that would be infinitely worse than not getting to do Sleepwalker at all. or even if it’s not the worst story ever, even if it’s just boringly mediocre, that would be pretty bad too. “wow, i get to draw Ninja Turtles, but– oh.”

    or the other way around too, like if i was the writer and they stuck me with a terrible artist, that would completely take the wind out of my sails. my interest in working on characters like Sleepwalker, TMNT, Marrow or X-23 or whatever is almost entirely based on an unrealistic, probably impossible, circumstance.

    i have another aspect of this that i can’t really talk about publicly because it involves a real gig, but basically for me it also really depends on the character, like i only have any real interest in working on characters i have a real attachment to. otherwise i’m not really interested at all, like if Marvel offered me Captain America i’d be completely uninterested. i guess if they let me do whatever i want, though, like turn Captain America into an alien cyborg or something and have him destroy America.

    i’m still gonna do my TMNT fan comic though and you’re gonna like it.

  6. 5 ross

    me again, i keep thinking about this. there’s also something interesting about the sampling thing you touched on a bit, there’s something satisfying for me in taking something and repurposing it or doing your own take on it. starting with the same point as other creators and seeing how each of them do it differently, one of the reasons i’m usually pretty interested in movie remakes. in the same vein i would also be interested in other people doing comics with my characters. i guess the big difference in all that is that aspect is usually squelched and boxed in because you’re under the thumb of corporate interests and editorial. unless you’re working on Marvel’s Strange Tales or something where it’s all weird and doesn’t really have to be marketable.

    i guess i still haven’t come to any conclusions about the aspect of this where people care about characters that the corporation doesn’t give a shit about, like the Cass Cain thing or any number of other characters. i don’t know. :\ i think sometimes you just care about a character and how the character has affected you, you know? i guess it is kind of silly, since you can still like and fully appreciate the portions of a character’s story that you’ve always liked and just disregard the rest, but i think Big Two comics with their endless continuity give rise to a strange sort of attitude, both in that people hate when things are changed regardless of the result, and that with this ongoing, never-ending world it’s like if a character is part of that then they become “more real” or something. and when a character is done in a way you don’t like or written out of the series, then it’s not like the story is just over like a movie or book, the story effectively keeps going but without that character and i think there’s something about that that affects people in a weird way i can’t really describe. gah, i don’t know.

  7. 6 Scott Austin

    Still listening to the episode, but I thought I’d drop a few lines about the topic of “why use Public Domain?” One of my main reasons for using public domain characters when I started Heroes,inc. was the fascination that these superheroes actually existed in and during WWII. And what’s more a lot of them are still in use in some form by one of the BIG Two. So basically I get to use the characters from DC and Marvel and write my own stories for them.


    Okay so not EVERY single character is based on a public domain character, but pretty much all of the top characters are and as long as the character you use is based on the actual public domain character… your safe.

    And it’s not just superheroes. You might mention this in the episode, but just think of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Characters from literature that are familiar to all. (Well, at least to those who actually read books :-D ) So you already know these people and are just seeing new adventures from favorite characters.

    There are things like trademarks that you have to be wary of though. For instance I use The Blue Beetle, but could never have him in his own book called Blue Beetle. I can use that name IN the book and story, but not in the title.

    Sure Project Superpowers is probably the best known at the moment, but it’s not the best. Not even close. ;-)

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  9. 7 Scott Austin

    Just wanted to add… you mention that Alex Ross is foolish for doing the public domain thing with Project Superpowers because he doesn’t own the characters or the stories and anyone can use the stuff he’s created.

    Not quite true. YES they can do what they want with the ORIGINAL public domain characters and stories, but anything Ross/Dynamite come up with is under their copyright. So all stories and character tweeks belong to them.

    Same with my creations in Heroes, inc. Sure the original characters and their stories are public domain, but MY version of them, the re-designs and new storylines AREN’T public domain.

  10. 8 nick marino

    @Scott: my foolish comment is mostly directed at the business end of Project Superpowers. though he retains all of the work he did and any of his interpretations of the characters, he ends up with a slew of things he can’t trademark or market as his own. my feeling is that a guy like Ross, who could brand his own characters successfully with little to no effort (practically on name recognition alone), would be better off with universe building that leaves him holding copyright not only on content but on the characters, their likenesses, and their universe. he has that to a degree, but not on a trademark or conceptual level.

    @Ross: i think the most disillusioning thing about working on licensed corporate-owned properties is that — especially early on in a career — there’s a huge chance that you’ll end up in an uncomfortable collaborative relationship or you’ll be heavily restricted with your story or you’ll be forced to follow an editorial plot.

  1. 1 The Comics Podcast Network » Sequential Underground #10
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